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Wind farm policy returned to County Board

BLOOMINGTON – After two additional public hearings and one major edit, a new policy for McLean County wind farm construction is headed to the County Board next week.

When the board meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday, it will consider approving a policy mandating specific setbacks, turbine heights, decommissioning requirements and wildlife impact studies for future wind projects.

Other than the wildlife section, the policy is identical to what was submitted to the board July 19, said Building and Zoning Director Phil Dick – and that was drawn from previous special-use permits for wind farms.

County Board members requested the policy be sent back to the Zoning Board of Appeals for additional community feedback. More than a dozen on each side – supporters and detractors – attended additional hearings Oct. 4 and Nov. 1.

“We tried to put as much of the information submitted on the (county) website as possible so County Board members would have access to it,” Dick said. That includes audio of both hearings and about 10 pieces of written testimony.

Several commenters spoke in favor of wider setbacks separating wind turbines from residences, roads and adjacent property lines, but wind developers said stricter guidelines would make building wind farms in the county unmanageable.

The wildlife section requires developers to conduct pre-siting and post-siting studies “addressing all relevant species” and submit them to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Developers must then implement those agencies’ recommendations “unless credible evidence is presented against” them.

Dick said those requirements originated with testimony from Angelo Capparella of Normal, an Illinois State University zoology professor who said the ZBA failed to adequately address wildlife issues in the policy.

Officials hope to pass the policy before two companies, EDP Renewables and Invenergy, file county paperwork for additional local wind farm construction. Both companies are vying for land in Chenoa, Lawndale, Lexington and Yates townships for wind turbine sites and were consulted on the policy.

Houston-based EDP filed a building permit Oct. 28 for a $170,000 meteorological tower off 3050 East Road in Yates Township, near Chenoa. Katie Chapman, an EDP project manager, said the tower represents “a routine wind resource assessment” and is “an early state step in the process.”

“We’ve got an eye on the (policy) and working leases out with landowners. We’ll be doing that the rest of this year, and next year we’ll do more environmental studies and start submitting permits,” Chapman said. “We’re still looking at the end of 2018 to be up and operating.”

Invenergy, a Chicago company, could not be reached for comment Thursday.